Selling the "project management message" to enable organizational excellence


Project management creates a significant difference in today's enterprises. It is exciting to wonder how things will be if organizations truly understood the project management message and the benefits that proper project management implementation could bring. Project management has changed from the view of the accidental career that it used to be to a discipline that provides the enterprise with superb connection between tactical and strategic directions. The key focus of this paper is to address the importance of having the project management message drive organizational excellence.

This paper addresses the tough questions associated with selling project management to future organizations. The world has been going through so much recently that had an impact on organizations and their attitude towards what it takes to excel in doing business.

Debunking traditional views of project management is essential. The policing view of project management is challenged in many of today's organizations. Project management is preferably positioned as a lessons learned vehicle. This mechanism is instrumental in allowing future organizations to excel in making their decisions based on the proper level of knowledge. Knowledge Based Decision Making (KBDM) is a weapon for future enterprise excellence.

There are many roots for resisting organizational change. Organizational Change Management (OCM) is fundamental to the success of the project management message. The politics in today's organizations need to be investigated and understood. The reasons for fearing change should be explored for project management selling to happen.

The advantages and disadvantages of going bottom up or top down in pursuing project management process implementation are important to consider. A step-by-step approach for laying out a roadmap for excelling in project management rollout should be outlined for the organizational maturity journey. The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3), by the Project Management Institute is linked to this analysis as a crucial side of the triad of standards that are governing project management into the future.

So what is the Magical Project Management Message?

Project management is one of today's vital weapons for organizational success. Organizations that excel in delivering their business solutions are often at a higher degree of project management maturity than others that have not progressed in the path of successful project management implementation.

Project management creates what could be referred to as “the Magic” in the enterprise. Let us start by defining a possible interpretation of the magic. When one hears the word magic, one possibly thinks of creating something that did not exist before. This is the basis for defining “Magic” in the context of the enterprise. It is about discovering new dimensions that the enterprise has not tapped into before. This art of discovery is the key to the excellence that project management is capable of creating for the enterprise.

When the organization is capable of being present to its priorities, its resources, their skill sets, their competencies, it can easily excel in ensuring that the wastes are minimized and that superb results are created. Being present in this context means focusing on doing the right things. These “right things” are the differentiators between a mediocre organization and an excellent organization.

In essence, the created magic means that the organization becomes continuously capable of producing successful results that it was not normally capable of sustaining. It is like discovering new muscles that were not tapped into before. Just like a child discovering for the first time its ability to stand on its feet and run the distance.

Excellence in Organizations of the Future

Trust is the foundation for successful project teamwork in future organizations. When the environment does not allow teams to be vulnerable and open, trust is affected and shakes the team's foundation. If conflicts are not encouraged and brought to the surface early in the project life cycle, they just continue to increase in size and lead to problems at the wrong timing in projects life cycles. These problems become very difficult to solve and are extremely expensive in the late projects stages.

Many of these topics are closely aligned with how mature the organization is. Maturity is defined as ability to repeat certain repeatable patterns for successful behaviors that allow organizations to excel. There have been many models utilized by organizations in the quest to assess how mature they are and to allow them to chart a course for how they could go about improving their performance. Kerzner's model, as in Exhibit 1 (2003), shows an approach that is applicable across many industries and project situations. The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) shown in Exhibit 2 shows a model that has been utilized by the software industry and the Information Technology driven organizations or businesses.

Kerzner's Maturity Model

Exhibit 1 – Kerzner's Maturity Model

Capability Maturity Model

Exhibit 2 – Capability Maturity Model

In addition the Project Management Institute (PMI®) has recently finished their efforts in completing the triad of standards. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is the standard for the Project Management Profession, PMCD Framework is the standard for the Project Manager, and finally OPM3™ is the standard for organizations in their pursuit of excellence in the management of their projects. There are three interlocking elements of OPM3: Knowledge, assessment, and improvement as shown in Exhibit 3.


Exhibit 3 – OPM3

These various maturity models allow us to show organizations where they truly are and open the door for selling the project management message. Many organizations are extremely surprised when they find out their score after conducting a maturity assessment. Most of these surprises consist of lower scores that they anticipated. This wake up call allows for creating the possibility to discuss what the organization could accomplish if proper project management discipline is implemented. OPM3 shows the possible areas where the improvement effort could be focused. It remains the responsibility of the organization and the subject matter experts involved in championing the cause of project management to prioritize the action steps to get the organization charged in the right direction.


The on-going lessons learned concept, is an important tool that plays a key role in sustaining a knowledge based organization that is capable of keeping and exploding the magic into many more dimensions of its business. Organizations waste huge sums of resources each year due to insufficient lessons learned. Some cultures are still viewing lessons learned as a blame game or they still mainly focus on what has gone wrong. A Future organization will dedicate 90% of its lessons learned efforts to focus on what has gone well, so it could be creating successful repeatable patterns. Project management used as a policing tool, should be eliminated from an organization if it is to become authentic to its commitment to continuous improvement.

The project management office is the driving force behind sustaining this knowledge based organizational dedication. Strategically the project office becomes the focal point for the project management process and owns the continuous improvement function. It creates the momentum for dedication to proper benchmarking. The office could take on the mentorship for inexperienced project managers and team leads. Its key value would be to create a centralized project file for all completed projects. These are structured files that allow, with proper categorization, the access to the information needed by the project managers.

Other areas of focus for the project management office are to become an area for creating minimum standards for the management of various projects in the enterprise. This then allows for the proper framework for sharing best practices and becomes a hot line to handle various conflicts. The project office could become the knowledge center for the organization that collects reporting information on schedule and budget to be used for future projects. By working with human recourses, project management curriculum and career path development could be enhanced.

Knowledge Based Decision Making could sharpen the organizations ability to excel in today's market place. Organizations already possess years of accumulated experiences in their resources that sometimes are left unutilized. Having access to information and creating the proper ways for utilizing the information by developing the proper structure for the gathering, access, and use of project information allows for a stronger likelihood for the KBDM discipline. Projects are complex enough by nature and it would be unacceptable to add a complexity dimension stemming from making decisions without the proper access to information. The project office should take on the leadership of having a center of excellence that drives this discipline in the enterprise.

The competencies associated with the KBDM are shown in Exhibit 4. It is a combination of both soft and technical knowledge. Having the correct technical knowledge is necessary for making decisions on estimates for duration and cost, sequencing, and resourcing. The soft knowledge allows for improving the political dimension. Understanding this allows the project managers and their teams to make things truly happen.

Knowledge is a crucial foundation for success. Project managers and other leaders have to strengthen their knowledge base today more than anytime in recent history. With so much information available and accessible around us, it is crucial to digest and process this information into powerful knowledge. When the project manager is knowledgeable, this creates a capability of expertise. This capability is a form of power since team members perceive the project manager to possess knowledge that is important for their and the organizations success.

Magical Organizations are organizations full of trust, respect, and joint learning. These are organizations that look at projects as great opportunities for learning. They enjoy the challenge and thrive on the state of change that these projects bring. These organizations look at projects as the vehicles for pushing them to horizons they initially thought of as unrealistic. The boundaries between reality and fantasy dissolve and that is what makes it magical.

Knowledge Competencies

Exhibit 4 – Knowledge Competencies

Selling the Message

Let us now attempt to discover the attributes for creating a supportive culture for selling the project management message. A culture is a combination of many things. It is formed over many years of an organization's existence. Cultures could be driven by people's practices, attitudes, habits, and values. This is the reason it is critical that the people at the helm of a given organization are the right leaders for supporting project management's values.

At the core of cultures, there is the fear of change. It is natural for all humans and could prevent organizations from moving ahead and being innovative in their approaches. When an organization has done business over the years in a certain way, it could easily choose to reside to common and safe ways (Rocking the boat is questioned and many advocates to sticking with what the organization knows best, come out defending old ways). This is a silent killer of project management.

Often fear of organizational change is rooted in non reality. In many cases, it is mainly due to an organizational ignorance of the benefits associated with the new ways of doing things. Organizations and their leaders hear the message that project management delivers, yet they are not truly listening to the proper useful meanings that project management brings. A collapsing of fantasy and reality take place. Organizations should dedicate proper resources to understand the benefits project management could bring to the bottom line of the enterprise.

A supportive culture for project management is also an open culture for new and improved ideas and mechanisms. Project management should not be seen as a discipline aimed at policing how an organization does business but instead as a discipline focused on making the organization more flexible and capable to face future business and market challenges. Utilizing project management to create a knowledge based organization is the key to develop an open environment within the organization.

A key selling point is the willingness to pilot the principles learned to on-going and future organizational initiatives in order to create the convincing message that “it works”. People struggle in connecting with things they have not seen before. For that reason comparing cases where proper project management is implemented with those where it was far from being utilized, could provide the right foundation for support and for turning the disbelievers to the right path.

The culture should embrace doing business in a project like fashion. When the organization is able to see that many aspects of its business are more or less candidates for projects, the organization is then able to explore more dimensions of this discipline. This allows for dedicated support for projects and project teams. This brings the organization to the realization that it is okay to have team members dedicated full time to doing projects. When projects are seen as a way of doing business, this technique could be referred to a “Managing Organizations by Projects”. This is the highest level of endorsement for project management as a way of organizational life.

The support could also be seen in recognizing the role of the project manager as a full time role dedicated mainly to managing projects. This is a foreign concept for many organizations since the norm consists of the project leader trying to balance various technical assignments, while managing other assignments. The project manager could end up with less than acceptable performance on both the technical and the managerial work roles. The old notion that the only work that counts, is the work with tangible outcomes, is a hindrance to accepting project management.

The support of organizations to project management could come in the form of creating proper sponsorship to projects. This does not mean only the financial support necessary to allow for proper planning and control of projects, but also should include the sponsorship of the project direction. This means that those project sponsors would be there to maintain the vision of the project. They fully understand and can justify all aspects of the project and are able to work with the project managers in getting that message across to the performing teams. This level of alignment between the organization and project directions is a key support element for project management success.

Project management can also be utilized to eliminate bad multi-tasking. Organizations are still under the impressions that squeezing in one more project would be the efficient thing to do. Senior leaders making such decisions should start looking closely at the losses associated with jumping between projects.

An organization that truly supports project management provides the project and program managers proper administrative staff. Project leaders should be using their time to analyze data, make decisions, handle conflicts, motivate team members, communicate status and trends, and ensure successful deliveries and completion. Many of the project managers in the less supportive organizations are spending great amounts of time trying to gather information about projects’ progress and status. This should be easily done by administrative staff.

Supportive cultures allow for mistakes. These cultures look at projects as a way for improving how the organization should continue to do things better in future cases. When team members are allowed to make mistakes and provide feedback on possible improvements, they are motivated and are connected better in their various project assignments.

Finally supportive cultures dedicate the proper attention, focus, and resources to “lessons learned”. Nothing can equal the value of lessons learned in allowing the organization to build the repositories of information necessary for improved estimating, risk management, and development of many aspects of the project plan. Our ability to estimate or predict risk is closely associated with how we were able to benefit from understanding past patterns.

A project management supportive culture eliminates unnecessary fear, is open, invests in piloting project management principles, embraces doing business in a project fashion, recognizes the full time role of the project manager, establishes proper project sponsorship level, avoids bad multi-tasking, uses project administrative staff, allows for mistakes, and makes lessons learned a way of life.

Organizational Politics

Organizations do business in different ways. The project manager is the link between an organization and its projects. Some organizations have a great understanding of projects and their needs, while others know that projects exist, yet are covered with political games that make it hard to provide the project manager with the proper support or authorization needed for project work.

Exhibit 5 illustrates a suggested organizational politics model that combines the interest in playing politics with the knowledge of playing politics. Hamdy and Zeitoun (Hamdy & Zeitoun, 2005) indicate that it is preferable that the organization focuses on being in the top left quadrant of this model. With knowledge of politics handling as high and yet a low interest in playing politics, the organization is in a strong position to balance direction with the needs of the project teams.

Organizational Politics Model

Exhibit 5 – Organizational Politics Model

Different Approaches and Directions

Creation of a magical transformation requires a great deal of cultural presence. The entire organization needs to be in tune with what type of cultural support is required for proper project management implementation. There have been many discussions of this topic and practitioners have mixed views regarding selling the project management message. Some agree the top down approach, driven by the senior team, is the way to go, yet others believe that the bottom up approach, driven by the performing team members, is the correct approach.

A balanced approach, that combines efforts from both directions, is needed. The senior team is an important key driver for the enhancements needed for the organization. They authorize implementation efforts, exemplify practices, and provide the needed support, while the performing teams have to have the buy-in necessary for the actual implementation of the project.

Cooperation between the senior team and the performing teams is essential in reaching the level of excellence expected from implementing project management principles.

One might wonder why many organizations are still formed around the pure silos of a functional structure. One could state many possible reasons for such decision. Part of the answer to this puzzling question hinges around the comfort level that this format creates. The lines of communication and chain of command are so clear vertically. Team members are getting the proper technical nurturing they need. There are no real issues as long as the work is done within one of these silos. The major problems happen when the organization has a need for doing projects that cross other business areas of the organization.

As organizations see the need for project support, they recognize the need for having expediters focus on facilitating getting things done for the various parts of the organization. The organization could then progress to utilize the role of that person as a coordinator. This coordinator could gain the authority required for getting project work done from the person the coordinator reports to. This is what is referred to as referent power. By creating the association with a person of power, the coordinator can make some of the important decisions necessary for the project.

As the organization acknowledges the project management discipline, it starts thinking horizontally across boundaries. This is the birth of the matrix thinking. The road to project management maturity is connected to this philosophy.

The weak matrix organization sees the role of the project leader as the person who possibly reports to the area where the majority of the project work is done. That person tries to manage across boundaries and yet is faced with the reality that the reporting is to a boss who is driven first by the priorities of the vertical business silo. This issue continues in the balanced matrix form. This is the origination of a project manager who has input to the team members’ performance equivalent to the input of their line managers. Many of today's organizations doing projects are an example of this structure.

Because the project manager in the balanced matrix reports to a functional manager, there continues to be a conflict of interest. The first format in which the organization is fully supportive of proper project management message is the strong matrix. In this strong matrix there is recognition of the project manager's full authorization and the need for administrative support. This is further expanded in the projectized organization, where the organization is fully dedicated to projects.

Organization structures have therefore followed a path of maturity in recognizing the project management function. Today organizations are starting to understand project management as a career path choice. They understand the importance of developing project management competencies, and follow such development, with the authorization and support crucial for the project mangers’ success. The two organization structures that show highest dedication to project work are the strong matrix, and the projectized organizations. These two forms require a level of commitment to the needs of project managers and could only exist when the organization can see the difference between a project and an operation and can stay flexible enough to deal with the dynamic nature associated with the uniqueness of projects.


Project management creates what could be referred to as “the Magic” in the enterprise. These transformed organizations start seeing the potential that project management could bring. They are organizations that are starting to see the importance of following the path to maturity. They invest in understanding where they are and where they are heading. They become organizations that utilize Knowledge Based Decision Making (KBDM) and use it as a weapon for future enterprise excellence.

Organizational Change Management (OCM) is fundamental to the success of the project management message. The main approach to handle OCM is communications. When we sell the project management message, we should highlight what it could do to transform the enterprise. This has to be focused on where the enterprise's concerns are and working out both quick and long term wins that address these concerns.

A supportive culture for project management is an open culture for new and improved ideas and mechanisms. Project management should not be seen as a discipline aimed at policing how an organization does business but instead as a discipline focused on making the organization more flexible and capable in the face of future business and market challenges. If selling project management is to succeed a good portion of the effort should be focused on creating this supportive culture.

A balanced approach for selling the message that combines efforts from both directions is needed. Both the top of the organization as well as the bottom should be involved in such effort. The top management team should combine words of project management support with action. The bottom of the organization should be asked to participate in developing the project management processes so that complete buy-in comes naturally.

The ideas presented in this paper should allow organizations to stop wasting millions of dollars every year in unsuccessful “business process reengineering” projects. Many of these projects are created for the wrong reasons and don't add to the bottom line. The discipline associated with being a knowledge based organizations should cut off years of waste in an enterprise's journey towards maturity. KBDM is the valued focus for the enterprise of the future.


Hamdy & Zeitoun, A. (2005 –pending) Project management training solutions. How to enable magical EST's:enterprise strategic solutions.

Kerzner, H (2003) Project management – A systems approach to planning scheduling and controlling. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

PMI (2003) Organizational project management maturity model: Knowledge foundation (OPM3™) (2003) Newtown Square, PA: The Project Management Institute,

Zeitoun, A. (2004, April) The project manager's likeability factor. PMI Global Congress 2004, Europe, Prague, Czech Republic.

© 2004, Al Zeitoun
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Anaheim



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Top Ten Behavioral Biases in Project Management member content locked

    By Flyvbjerg, Bent This article identifies the 10 most important behavioral biases for project management.

  • Project Management Journal

    Perceived Complexity of a Project’s Optimal Work Plan Influences Its Likelihood of Adoption by Project Managers member content locked

    By Brokman-Meltzer, Mor | Perez, Dikla | Gelbard, Roy Perceived complexity is a factor when project managers adopt suboptimal work plans, even when optimal plans are readily accessible.

  • Project Management Journal

    Executives' Decision Processes at the Front End of Major Projects member content locked

    By Chenger, Denise | Woiceshyn, Jaana This article reports on an inductive multiple-case study of how executives made such decisions in major upstream oil and gas projects.

  • Project Management Journal

    The Missing Link in Project Governance member content locked

    By Ferrer, Paulo Sergio Scoleze | Araújo Galvão, Graziela Darla | de Carvalho, Marly Monteiro This study aims to understand how the information about corporate governance permeates the the project environment and influences decisions.

  • PM Network

    El momento de la verdad member content open

    PM Network consulta a la comunidad de gestión de proyectos sobre las lecciones aprendidas.